With billions of people on virtual lockdown in their homes, it'll come as no surprise that Facebook is seeing a massive increase in activity within its apps.
But even so, the actual numbers are significant - according to Facebook, over the last few weeks, it's seen:
- Total messaging increases of more than 50%, across both WhatsApp and Messenger
- An increase of 70% in Messenger group video calls, and more than double the regular demand for video calls in WhatsApp
- Overall U.S. traffic from Facebook to other websites has increased by more than 50% week-on-week
On one hand, this is positive news for The Social Network, boosting its all-important engagement stats. But Facebook has also noted that the increased traffic has put increased strain on its network, and that it's now working hard to keep its systems running amidst unprecedented demand.
As per Facebook:
"During this emergency, we’re doing everything we can to keep our apps fast, stable and reliable. Our services were built to withstand spikes during events such as the Olympics or on New Year’s Eve. However, those happen infrequently, and we have plenty of time to prepare for them. The usage growth from COVID-19 is unprecedented across the industry, and we are experiencing new records in usage almost every day."
Facebook also notes that staffing shifts, required as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns, have reduced its capacity to respond to issues related to traffic increases.
"We are working to keep our apps running smoothly, while also prioritizing features such as our COVID-19 Information Center on Facebook as well as the World Health Organization’s Health Alert on WhatsApp. We’re monitoring usage patterns carefully, making our systems more efficient, and adding capacity as required."
In other words, you may experience some issues with Facebook's apps at some stage.
CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted the same during his press call last week;
"We're trying to make sure that we can stay in front of this challenge. Right now, this isn't a massive outbreak in every country around the world, but if it gets there, then we really need to make sure we're on top of this from an infrastructure perspective and make sure that we can continue to provide the level of service that people need in a time like this."
As it works to maintain system uptime, and cater to rising demand, Facebook has also made changes to its service in order to reduce overall network loads, and avoid overloading local bandwidth. Late last week, Facebook joined YouTube in reducing the quality of its video streams from HD to SD by default, a setting which, Facebook says, is now in place in "certain regions".
And similar to Twitter, Facebook also notes that while it is seeing increased usage, and it's working harder than ever to maintain its systems, it's also seeing less demand for its ad products as a result of the various shutdowns and closures.
"Much of the increased traffic is happening on our messaging services, but we’ve also seen more people using our feed and stories products to get updates from their family and friends. At the same time, our business is being adversely affected like so many others around the world. We don’t monetize many of the services where we’re seeing increased engagement, and we’ve seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19."
Facebook did, of course, generate more than $70 billion in ad revenue in 2019, so it's not exactly struggling to maintain its operations. But still, it is interesting to note the broader impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they're effecting Facebook and other social platforms.
On the face of it, you likely equate more usage to more revenue for the social giants, but evidently that's not the case in this instance.
Hopefully, Facebook is able to maintain its systems and keep everything running, but it is worth noting that, as COVID-19 continues to spread, that may cause issues for your favorite app.
In the midst of the crisis, the key social media platforms have shown, once again, that they now play a critical role in keeping us connected, keeping us informed and keeping us entertained as we need. In some ways, that connectivity has lead to problems, but it's also helping to keep us together as a society, and to maintain social connection at a time where we need it most.
Facebook, whether you like it or not, is central to this. And as it continues to play a key role in connection, it's only going to become a more essential service.